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Back from 12 day trip to Greece and Turkey

Back from 12 day trip to Greece and Turkey

Nov 15th, 1999, 11:00 AM
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Back from 12 day trip to Greece and Turkey

As a way of paying back everyone for all the help I received from this forum, here is a report on our very enjoyable October cruise to Athens, Santorini, Rhodes, Ephesus, and Istanbul. I'd be happy to answer any questions or give any advice within the range of our experience.

Cruising Aboard the Renaissance R-1
Athens to Istanbul
October 16th to 28th, 1999

This was our first cruise and I believe we were lucky to stumble upon this for our initiation. We spoke with our various ship dinner companions who had been on many cruises (some as cruised as many as 50 times) and they reviewed the R-1 extremely favorably. From what I understand, other ships subject you to a lot of loudspeaker announcements. We had almost none of those on the R-1. Instead, each day we received a printed itinerary which listed the days instructions, entertainment, activities and special television offerings. The only really negative comment I have about the ship is that the bed was not very comfortable. It felt almost like a sleeper sofa. That is surprising, since all of the other furnishings in the room and on the ship were of high quality, such as the shower fixtures and the more than ample storage space. The layout of the room and storage spaces had obviously been very well thought out. However, a bed is something you spend a third of your time on! By comparison, the bed at the Ceylon Intercontinental Hotel in Istanbul was heaven! There were even down comforters and four king sized down pillows with high quality bed linens. I have never slept so well in my life. Except for the bed, we thought the cruise was an incredible value.

We upgraded to a balcony cabin and have been spoiled for life. We would never do it any other way now. The experience of being able to go out on the balcony in the hush of the early morning and watch as we came into some of the exotic ports were unforgettable. As we quietly drew near Santorini it was misty and almost like a dream. The high cliffs with the white buildings were so beautiful. We put our binoculars to good use. Also, pulling into Istanbul was fascinating: the loud put-put of the small fishing boats going out to sea, and the spires of the mosques still lit up in the early morning light. Perhaps some cruises don't warrant the extra expense of a balcony room, but this trip certainly does.

The food was better than we expected, from some of the reviews we read. I had been in catering and consider myself pretty picky and I had no complaints. On only one occasion did I hear that anyone was unhappy with the food. It was a disapointing vegetarian entree ordered by two of our table companions. The wait staff was impeccable. Many of them are young Europeans, some of whom are supporting a wife and children back home. I think the entertainment could have been more varied. There was a core group of young entertainers who did musical reviews. It reminded me to some of the Disneyworld entertainment we have been to. They are very fresh and perky, and talented, but it did not keep my interest. Actually, after a full day of getting up early and sightseeing, I was not very interested in staying up late partying anyway.

The Ceylon Intercontinental in Istanbul was outstanding, even nicer than the Atheaneum Intercontinental in Athens. Our stay in Athens did start out on a bad note: check-in was chaotic and disorganized. We had been on a long plane trip and everyone was tired. We then had to sit through a long orientation (which was mainly to promote the organized tours, which we were not planning to do). Afterwards there was a mad dash to the check-in desk, which was run by the hotel staff. They were overwhelmed with trying to register 650 people at one time. If you were polite and waited your turn in line you were pushed aside by other people forging ahead. This was the only organizational foul-up of the whole trip. Otherwise, we were very impressed with the way Renaissance handled this large group. Then, the first night in the hotel (at 1:00 a.m.) our television suddenly changed to Channel 9 and began to emit a piercing siren. The screen displayed the message: 'Evacuate hotel immediately'. We all stood in front of the hotel in various stages of undress for about an hour, until we were readmitted. We were never officially informed what the problem was. Some said it was a bomb scare. Another story was that since President Clinton was to be visiting the hotel in November, the secret service were testing the emergency response system. One of the hotel personnel told us that a scare happens every week somewhere in Athens, because of all the kids using their cell phones. All I know is, from now on when I am out of town, I will always keep my shoes, purseand coat next to the door.

The cities we visited were varied and interesting. I had read that Athens was noisy, dirty and crowded. Well, we loved visiting the Acropolis, wending our way through the back alleys of the Plaka, watching
the changing of the guard. We experimented with local restaurants. Our stewardess on the plane told us about a small cafe hotel called ' Vasilis'. We had dinner there twice and both times there were flight crews eating there. A fews shops down, was a great place for breakfast. The new owner works at the hotel in the evenings and bent over backwards trying (and succeeding) to please us. The surroundings are less than elegant, but the food is great and so are the prices. We seldom paid more than $22 for both of our dinners, which usually included the local beer. We only visited the roof-top bar of the hotel once and had our drinks outside with a great view of the lightedAcropolis.

Santorini was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps it was because of the season (mid-October), but it was somewhat dead. Our pictures are breathtaking, though. You could not get a bad picture on Santorini if you tried. The island strikes me as the kind of place that is mainly there for tourists. We like to hang out with the locals. Everyone wants to make a buck off of you. I was initially charmed by this guy who was dressed in rustic clothing, sweeping the street next to a colorfully outfitted donkey. I pointed my camera at them from a distance and he began yelling at me, exclaiming that he expected me to buy his pistachios (on the donkey's back) before I could take a picture. It was obvious his costume and positioning were a set-up for the tourists. Kind of like an adult Disneyland. We enjoyed Rhodes much more, because we had more contact with the locals. I had an absorbing conversation
with a young woman shopkeeper who had been educated in New York and travels the world buying goods for her store. We even exchanged addresses.

We hate organized tours, so in Kusadisi we rented a car with some friends we met on the ship. We shared the cost of $30 and drove to Ephesus. Once you get out of the city, it is easy to find your way. Ephesus was unbelievable! It is the one place you really should have a tour guide, or at least a really good guide book, because
of the richness of it's history.

Saving the best for last, Istanbul was wonderful. The city is vibrant with color and activity. Everyone says people are so friendly in Turkey. They really are, but beware, everyone wants to sell you something. The park benches are full of men in suits waiting to strike up a conversation with you. "Where are you from?" "How do you like it in Istanbul?" They cheerfully walk you to the sites you are looking for and wait for you on the other side. Then comes the invitation, "Come to my family's shop around the corner - no obligation - only takes a few minutes of your time." One young man escorted us for two hours! There are a lot of children selling small toys (they evaporate into thin air when the police drive by only to reappear again in a few minutes), or offering to polish your shoes. The latter can be quite obnoxious in their insistency. If you are not firm with them (we were told to say "hire" - I think it means an emphatic "no"), they dab the polish on without your permission.

We ate several times at a place called 'Haci Baba'. There are large display cases where you just point to the meat you want and they cook it for you on the spot. There are also large trays of cooked foods and salads. We have been eating lamb, feta, eggplant and yogurt every day since we've been home. Another great local place is a series of restaurants in the Flower Market and Fish Market areas (called 'Checik Pasaje'). It's alive from 7:30-10:00 p.m. with lots of local people and strolling musicians. Afterwards, we went to a coffee and pastry bar for dessert.All of these places are within walking distance of the Ceylon Intercontinental Hotel, just past Taksim Square. Ask your hotel concierge for his advice. Ours gave us great tips.

We visited the Blue Mosque, St. Sophia Church, Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is a series of 45 streets of shops. Everyone tried to pull you into their shop. Nothing is priced, so you barter for everything. We were told not to accept the first five offers given. You know you got a great deal of the proprietor is practically mad at you when you leave. You hear everything from "Now I have to close my shop", to "You have broken my heart". If you have the money, the rugs and jewelry are beautiful. We didn't, so we bought little things like worry beads, spices and pepper mills. We did find a beautiful red mandolin in an abandoned shop window and bought it from an old gentleman who had built it years ago and let us have it for $20. We didn't barter with him over it and he had tears in his eyes when we left.

The Basilica Cystern was mysterious and eerie. It is an ancient underwatern cavern once used to store water in case of siege. When we were there, there was an avant guard art show inside, with art films being shown on the walls, and under the water. Huge lit globes hung all around, inside of which were holographic blinking human eyes. In the background you heard eerie, echoing classical music, accompanied by the sound of dripping water from the ceiling. Another unforgettable experience was the Turkish Bath. All the guidebooks said not to miss this. I agree. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. I won't spoil it by describing it. All I can say is, relax and go with it. You will be out of your comfort zone, which is not bad. All in all, the memories from this vacation, with the help of 350 pictures and 4 hours of video, will last a lifetime.

Nov 16th, 1999, 03:40 AM
Posts: n/a
Maggi: Thanks for an interesting summation. I don't do cruises, but will be "doing" Turkey and Greece for 6 weeks independently next May and June. The one question I have is regarding Ephesus. We will be driving in Turkey and will have a car when we reach Kusadasi where we will stay for three days. Some people have told us to turn in our car when we get there and take organized trips to Ephesus as it is difficult to park, enter, etc. and you really need a guide. Do you agree, or are you saying that it makes sense to drive there and find a guide at Ephesus? Of course, from what everyone says, you must have been at a real advantage in October with far fewer other people -- except, of course, all the other people from your ship.
The other thing is I don't intend to buy ANYTHING in Instanbul. Certainly don't want anything, and don't want to carry it around Europe four five months before we return. Does that mean we will have a rough time just "touring" the markets?? I know that we can't express any interest in anything, but will we be insulted for just passing through from shop to shop??
Nov 16th, 1999, 06:53 AM
Posts: n/a
Dear Patrick,
We really didn't have any trouble driving to Ephesus from Kusadisi. As I said, the hardest was finding our way out of the city. But the traffic is not nearly as bad as in Athens and Istanbul. The driving is both of those cities was chaotic to say the least. You will be better off than us, because we were under time constraints and had to be back at the ship by 5:30. Parking (at least in October) was not a problem in Ephesus. We weren't looking for a guide there, so I can't advise you there. Just be careful because everyone tries to fasttalk you into using their services. They may not always be truthful with their information, i.e. "it's a 3-1/2 walk, we will drive you", when in reality it was not such thing. Keep in mind that any offers made will be in their best interest, not yours. Also, based on our experience with a taxi driver we hired in Athens to take us to Corinth, make absolutely sure you understand what the charge will be. We ended up paying $100 more than we thought we had agreed upon. Next time, I would write it on a piece of paper to confirm. I don't mean all this to sounds negative. It's just a different mind-set. It pays not to be naive! With regard to the markets...we didn't buy much, just small trinkets. Others in our group spent huge amounts of money. You just have to say "no thanks" (and you will say it A LOT) because everyone approaches you. I loved walking through the Egyptian Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar. Have a great trip!
Nov 16th, 1999, 06:58 AM
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Hey Maggi, thanks for bringing back the fond memories I had of my trip to Greece. I found a lovely online photo of Fira in Santorini - makes great wallpaper. The URL is http:/footloosetravel.com/photopage6.html
Nov 16th, 1999, 07:10 AM
Posts: n/a
Maggi: Thanks for the great post. My aunt and uncle did this cruise earlier this year and they loved it too. The Washington Post also recently had a good review of it.
Coincidentally, last week I received an e-mail offering this same Renaissance cruise package (2 nights Athens, 2 nights Istanbul, 5-night cruise) for less than $600 per person, including roundtrip airfare. Needless to say, it was VERY tempting. But the catch was that you had to go in January (not the warmest month to cruise this region), and the offer was only good for 24 hours. I ultimately decided against it, although I would definitely consider it for another time.
Nov 16th, 1999, 10:44 AM
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It's unbelievable how inexpensive those cruises can be! Two things...I would definitely upgrade to a balcony room, also you have to add on the cost of the Turkish visa and you do need money for food, etc. while at the hotels. The recommended tip scale on Renaissance is higher than average (we ended up using their recommendation and paid about $130 tips for the 5 day cruise). We took $2000 with us for the 12 day trip and brought back about $400. Of that $2000 we spent about $200 on souvenirs. The rest went for cab fare, car rental, admission prices to sites, food and who knows what else. We had to stay a night before and after in New York, too. So, a $600 cruise will really end up costing $1500 or more per person. Since we have returned we have gotten e-mail AND snail mail every day from Renaissance offering increasingly cheaper and more tempting cruises. I love looking at them but it will be a long time until we are able to go again.
Nov 17th, 1999, 04:14 AM
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To Patrick

We visited Ephesus July last year by car. No problems parking at the site, museum, Mary's house, St. John's basilica and Isa Bey mosque. Note that this was before Ocalan and earthquakes ... I would say Ephesus was as packed as it may get. If, on top of the above, you decide to visit also the 7-sleeper's cave (we didn't) you should allow some 8 hours.

As you may know, Ephesus has two entrance gates. One is the Magnesian Gate at the southeast corner of the site and the other one (main gate) is near the Olympieion at the northwest corner. Roughly, the path through the site is downhill from the Magnesian Gate to the other. Most of the buses unload the visitors in the Magnesian Gate and then park in the other corner to pick them up. The northwest parking lot may therefore be packed. The southeast parking lot was almost empty. If you're driving your own car, you'll have to go back and forth between the two gates. For us this worked fine. We got a rough idea of the site going down and then stopped more at length for details on the return path. Also, since we knew we would be returning on the path, we minimized the zig-zag (monuments are spread along both sides of the main path).

Most of the independent guides are on the northwest gate. We found a few at the Magnesian Gate but we decided to tour the site on our own. We had a copy of the relevant section of the Blue Guide (I recommend you get one each for Turkey, Greece, Athens and Istanbul) and a the "Let's Visit Ephesus" guide, by Mehlika Seval (Rick Steve's guide in Turkey) - Minyatur Publicaciones ISBN 975-7647-14-4 for the Spanish version, that we had bought in Kusadasi. Unless we were able to hire Melida herself, I'm almost certain that there would be very few guides at par with the content of both references.

You're planning to stay 3 days in Kusadasi. Most probably, you'll use one of them to visit Priene, Miletus and Dydima. In case you're also planning a side trip to Pamukkale, don't do it. It would be a very long and tiring day trip. You should plan to spend the night in Pamukkale. This would give you also the opportunity to visit Aphrodisias on your way to or from Kusadasi. We went to Pammukale from Marmaris and from there to Kusadasi, where we spent 2 nights. Things worked out perfectly.

Aug 6th, 2000, 01:08 PM
nejat incedogan
Posts: n/a
I suggest to drive with your car to Eastern upper gate on the way and start visiting the site.
another possibity is to drive to lowergate on the way from kusadası and park car there take a cap or horsecarıage there to upper gate.
guides are available check their language before you hire.
min time you need is over 2 hours and guide costs arounf 40 usd.
nejat incedogan
guide lecturer
Aug 6th, 2000, 09:11 PM
Posts: n/a
Maggi, thanks for your report. I plan on visiting those areas next year (except Greece, I was there two years ago.) I'm glad you had a good cruise, I've been on a couple The Mexican Rivera and in the Caribian and loved both of them. It seems like most fodorites don't like cruses, but it is truly a vacation. You get totaly pampered, the food is as good as you'll ever get and you can do as much or as little as you like. They are also very romatic. When the time gets closer for my trip, I may have some more questions for you.
Good Traveling
Aug 7th, 2000, 04:01 AM
Posts: n/a
Anything you want to know! It's fun sharing trip experiences, kind of like re-living them. That was our first cruise and will be hard to beat. We wouldn't cruise every time because we are quite independent travelers - we didn't take any of the ship's tours. One side note, since that trip in October, we have received TWO mailings from Renaissance every single day!
Aug 7th, 2000, 09:30 AM
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Maggi, somehow I just found your recounting of your trip which I guess was almost a year ago but it was so good to be able to relive the trip I took with my daughter in June to Istanbul, Athens, and Santorini. It was an exhilarating trip and I love to think about it. One question: do you know why the Medusa is upside down in the Cistern? I should know but can't remember. thanks.
Sep 2nd, 2000, 03:05 PM
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Sounds like an amazing trip. Do you have any good info about the temps in Santorini and Istanbul (and Bodrum if you know it) in November? Sounds like your weather was pretty decent this time of year.
Nov 14th, 2000, 03:49 PM
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Anyone needs information about Ephesus please poste your qestions here or email to me at
[email protected]
for prompt answers.
Nejat Incedogan
Dec 26th, 2000, 04:11 AM
nejat incedogan
Posts: n/a
New Entrance fees for Ephesus
Entrance fees for Ephesus are being increased 50 % approximately from 1 st of Jan.
Also there is possibity to visit the Roman villas now with a previous permittion and extra dditional fee is 15 usd pp.
for any further questions post here or email me.
Nejat İncedogan
Guide Lecturer
[email protected]

Wıshing you a happy new Year
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